- It All Comes Down to This: With only two postseason seeds set, a lot is riding on the final regular season weekend in the Men's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
- Nationally-ranked No. 4/5 Minnesota State is in the driver's seat to capture the fabled MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champions (which would be the Mavericks' third in the last five seasons, following an outright title in 2014-15 and co-championship in 2015-16). The Mavericks, who own the nation's longest winning streak at nine-straight games, have a five-point lead on No. 16 Northern Michigan and need a combo of two points won and/or Wildcats points lost to clinch. A single point secures a co-championship and, by tiebreaker (most WCHA league wins in 60 and/or 65 minutes), the No. 1 WCHA Playoffs seed.
- NMU, while still alive in the title chase, must also fend off No. 15 Bowling Green in the race for the all-important No. 2 postseason seed (which guarantees hosting in the semifinals, should the team win its quarterfinal-round series).
- There is one quarterfinal-round matchup set: Bemidji State, as the fourth-seed, will host No. 5 seed Michigan Tech on March 2-4 in a best-of-three series at the Sanford Center.
- The race for the final three playoff spots will be intense, with four teams separated by just three points. Alabama Huntsville, seeking to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2014-15 season, is tied with Alaska for sixth place (30 points each). Both teams are home this weekend, with the Chargers hosting Bowling Green and the Nanooks welcoming Alaska Anchorage in the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup series. Ferris State (28 points) leads Lake Superior State (27) by a single point – the Bulldogs and Lakers will decide it on the ice this weekend in Big Rapids.
- Winning Hockey: The WCHA's top four teams all rank among the top-15 nationally this season for winning percentage.
- Minnesota State, which leads the country with 25 wins, is second at .781 (25-7-0). Bowling Green is 10th at .647 (19-9-6), Northern Michigan is 11th (.632, 20-11-3) and Bemidji State is 15th (.574, 16-11-7).
- MSU is also tops since New Year's at .917 (11-1-0), while NMU (.792, 9-2-1) is third and BGSU (.786, 11-3-0) is tied for fourth.
- The Mavericks have played the best hockey in the country since Dec. 1, going 16-2-0 (.889). The Falcons are tied for third in that span at .737 (13-4-2), while the Wildcats are fifth at .725 (13-4-3).
- Horns Up: In addition to its nine-game winning streak, 11-1-0 and 16-2-0 runs, and its NCAA-best 25 wins overall, Minnesota State needs one victory this weekend to become the first 22-game WCHA winner since Wisconsin in 1999-2000 (23-5-0). This year's Mavericks (21-5-0), along with the 2014-15 MSU (21-4-3) and Michigan Tech (21-5-2) teams, have the most WCHA wins of the last five seasons.
- Minnesota State leads the country in nine categories: wins (25), goals (128), goals per game (4.00), goal margin (+61), goal margin per game (+1.91), power-play goals (42), fewest shots on goal allowed per game (21.88), shots on goal margin (+419) and shots on goal margin per game (+13.09).
By the Numbers
- 2: WCHA 20-goal scorers (Alabama Huntsville's Josh Kestner and Minnesota State's C.J. Suess), most since the 2014-15 season.
- 12: Saves needed by Michael Bitzer to set the all-time Bemidji State men's hockey record. The senior has 3,054 career stops, 11 shy of leader Steve O'Shea (3,065).
- 3,373: Career saves by Olivier Mantha, most in Alaska Anchorage history. The senior wraps up his illustrious career this weekend.
The Week Ahead
- Bemidji State at No. 4/5 Minnesota State: The Mavericks can wrap up the MacNaughton Cup in front of the Verizon Center faithful, while the Beavers -- their No. 4 seed secure -- hope to play spoiler for their in-state rivals.
- Michigan Tech at/vs. No. 16 Northern Michigan: Bitter UP rivals meet in a home-and-home series. The Wildcats hope to be playing for the MacNaughton Cup on Saturday in Houghton; if not, four points for NMU can clinch the No. 2 seed.
- No. 15 Bowling Green at Alabama Huntsville: The Falcons, assured of no worse than a No. 3 seed, can still overtake NMU for the No. 2 spot. The Chargers, 5-6-1 at home this season, control their own destiny to make their first WCHA Playoffs appearance since 2014-15.
- Alaska Anchorage at Alaska: The Nanooks have the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup clinched, while they control their WCHA Playoffs destiny.
- Lake Superior State at Ferris State: The Bulldogs lead the Lakers by one point for the eighth and final playoff spot; a win in either game, and Ferris State is in the WCHA tournament. LSSU has won four-straight games -- all on the road -- to climb back into contention.
The Week in Review
- Bowling Green secured a top-three finish, as the No. 14 Falcons outlasted a game Alaska Anchorage squad for a key road sweep.
- Bemidji State secured home ice for the quarterfinal round of the 2018 WCHA Playoffs by taking five points from visiting Alaska during a hard-fought series.
- Fifth-ranked Minnesota State swept Ferris State, moving past idle Northern Michigan and into first place in the WCHA standings -- and within two points of clinching its third MacNaughton Cup in five seasons.
- Michigan Tech hosted Arizona State for the first time, settling for a late-season nonconference series split.
- Full recaps and box scores, along with the "Inside the WCHA" highlights show, are available at wcha.com.
No. 14 Bowling Green 5, at Alaska Anchorage 2
No. 14 Bowling Green 2, at Alaska Anchorage 1
(Feb. 15 and 16 at Sullivan Arena; Anchorage, Alaska)
Bowling Green secured a top-three finish, as the No. 14 Falcons outlasted a game Alaska Anchorage squad for a key road sweep.
Tied 1-1 after two periods, the visiting Falcons erupted for four, third-period goals for the 5-2 victory in Friday's series opener. Lukas Craggs scored twice in the frame, including the tie-breaking, game-winner at 11:07 (giving BGSU a 3-2 lead), while Tyler Spezia and Stephen Baylis also netted third-period goals for the Falcons. Freshman Max Johnson gave BGSU a 1-0 lead 54 seconds into the second period, but sophomore defenseman Tomi Hiekkavirta netted his first collegiate goal to draw the Seawolves even.
The Falcons again found themselves tied past the halfway mark of the third period, but senior Spezia lifted Bowling Green to a 2-1 victory and sweep with his 10th goal of the year (coming at the 12:19 mark). Again, BGSU opened the scoring early in the second period, with Connor Ford lighting the lamp just nine seconds into the frame. UAA's Alex Butcher continued his torrid pace, with the senior (and Anchorage native) scoring his seventh goal in nine games to draw the Seawolves even. The night marked the final home game in the illustrious career of UAA senior goaltender Olivier Mantha, and the school's all-time saves leader was again spectacular in a 20-stop effort.
at Bemidji State 2, Alaska 2 - OT (BSU scores in 3v3 OT)
at Bemidji State 2, Alaska 1
(Feb. 15 and 16 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)
Bemidji State secured home ice for the quarterfinal round of the 2018 WCHA Playoffs by taking five points from visiting Alaska during a hard-fought series.
Sixty-five minutes was not enough to decide Friday's series opener, with the Beavers and Nanooks battling to a 2-2 tie. But, it was BSU that earned the valuable extra point in the WCHA standings, as Myles Fitzgerald scored on the power play during the 3-on-3, second overtime session. A pair of freshman forwards dueled in regulation, with BSU's Charlie Combs and UAF's Steven Jandric each scoring twice. Three of the four goals came in the third period, with Jandric tying the game 1-1 just 38 seconds into the frame, Combs putting the Beavers ahead at 5:14 and Jandric once again knotting the contest – this time with an extra attacker and just 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
Michael Bitzer pitched a shutout for 58:38, fellow senior Jordan Heller scored a huge goal late and the Beavers clinched quarterfinal-round home ice with a 2-1 victory. Clinging to a 1-0 lead (secured via a first-period Adam Brady goal) and time winding down, Heller lit the lamp with 1:41 remaining regulation. That extra goal loomed large, as the Nanooks' Chad Staley scored an extra-attacker marker just 19 seconds later. But, Bitzer and BSU held on for the victory.
at No. 5 Minnesota State 7, Ferris State 1
at No. 5 Minnesota State 4, Ferris State 2
(Feb. 16 and 17 at Verizon Center; Mankato, Minn.)
Fifth-ranked Minnesota State swept Ferris State, moving past idle Northern Michigan and into first place in the WCHA standings -- and within two points of clinching its third MacNaughton Cup in five seasons.
The Mavericks, who leads the country with 128 goals and an even 4.00 goals per game, showed why they have the nation's top-ranked offense in a 7-1 victory Friday. Six different skaters scored for Minnesota State, while freshman Jake Jaremko netted a pair of goals during the home team's five-goal, second-period outburst. Fellow freshman Reggie Lutz and 2016-17 WCHA Rookie of the Year Marc Michaelis scored, as did senior co-captains C.J. Suess and Brad McClure. Senior goaltender Connor LaCouvee turned aside 19-of-20 shots for the win.
An entertaining, tightly-contested game Saturday went Minnesota State's way, 4-2, thanks to a pair of goals each from McClure and Suess. The co-captains both scored in the first period to give the Mavericks a 2-0 lead, but the visiting Bulldogs rallied in the second behind goals from Jacob Hetz and Liam MacDougall. The game remained tied 2-2 until late in the third period, when McClure put Minnesota State ahead at 17:22 and Suess iced the outcome with 1:45 remaining. Suess pulled into a tie for the WCHA lead with his career-high 20th goal (tied for fifth in the country), while the Hobey Baker Award candidate leads the league with 38 points (also a career high and tied for eighth nationally).
Arizona State 2, at Michigan Tech 1 - OT
at Michigan Tech 5, Arizona State 3
(Feb. 16 and 17 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Houghton, Mich.)
Michigan Tech hosted Arizona State for the first time, settling for a late-season nonconference series split.
The visiting Sun Devils used an overtime goal by Jacob Wilson and 39 saves from Joey Daccord to win Friday's series opener, 2-1. Jake Lucchini scored the lone Michigan Tech goal, coming at the 12:49 mark of the first period.
Saturday night, Tech scored five goals in the final 40 minutes for a 5-3 victory. Trailing 1-0 heading to the second period, Mark Auk and Joel L'Esperance struck for power-play goals, and Dylan Steman also lit the lamp to put the Huskies up, 3-1. ASU cut into the deficit nine seconds before intermission and tied it 3:37 into the third period, but Tech scored twice in a 14-second span for the win. Gavin Gould put the Huskies on top, 4-3 at the 6:39 mark, while Dane Birks scored just 14 seconds later.